The police in Tirupati has arrested Ramanna Dikshutulu, the chief priest of Kodanda Ramaswamy temple who had misappropriated a valuable diamond necklace of the temple by mortgaging it. The TTD has also put three employees of the temple including assistant vigilance officer Viswanath under suspension. The minister for endowment Gade Venkat Reddy said that the government would initiate a criminal and departmental action against the priest and all those responsible for the misappropriation.
Just a day after the Andhra Pradesh High Court's ordering a complete audit of the assets of Tirumala Tirupati Devsthanam, irregularities in the maintenance of the assets have started coming to the light.
Bhatti Ramana Dikshutulu, the chief priest of Kodandaramaswamy temple in Tirupati created a stir when he told the reporters that he had mortgaged a diamond necklace worth lakhs of rupees two years ago for an amount of Rs 9 lakhs to a moneylender.He said he was forced to do it as he and his family was in facing serious financial problems and his health condition had also worsened. Producing the medical reports Dikshutulu said that he was unable to bear the hospital expenses. "All these problems forced me to mortgage the necklace", he said.
The necklace, gifted to the deity by a devotee, had half a kilogram of gold apart from valuable diamonds. Ramanna Dikshutulu said that he had so far repaid an amount of Rs 3 lakhs and was trying to repay the remaining principle amount and the interest.
The priest made the confession before the media just when the vigilance cell officials of TTD had started the audit of the ornaments and other valuables at different temples under the TTD. The officials found the necklace missing and had started looking for the priest when he appeared before the media to narrate his tale.
Later the TTD vigilance authorities took the priest in to custody for questioning. TTD chairman Aadikesavulu Naidu said that after the allegations are proved against the priest, stringent action will be taken by the TTD. He assured that the deity's jewels were being looked after properly and there was no loophole in its security.
The incident was likely to increase the suspicions and misgivings among the devotees and masses that the assets of TTD including the Lord Venkateshwara temple atop Tirumala are not being managed properly. It is believed that the assets including the gold the and diamond jewelry of the TTDP runs in to hundreds of crores of rupees.
The issue came in to sharp focus after a devotee B Govinda Reddy from Nellore approached the state High Court seeking its intervention to ensure the protection of the assets of the TTD. The petitioner alleged that the jewelry of the Tirumala and other temples under TTD was being misappropriated.
Acting on the petition, a division bench comprising of justice G Raghu Ram and Justice Ramesh Ranganathan had ordered the TTD to submit the inventory of the entire jewelry of all the temples under it including Tirumala temple, the richest in south India. But even after the a week long deadline expired, the TTD failed to submit the inventory and provided only a book with details of only some jewels. Not satisfied with it, the bench issued another ordered that TTD should submit the detailed inventory of all the jewels and other assets to the court in two months.